‘Hello Ladies’ on HBO review

Hello Ladies

Sunday, Sept. 29, 10:30 p.m., HBO

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A friend once told me it’s possible to become cool in L.A. simply by osmosis, but it’s not soaking in for poor Stuart (Stephen Merchant), a lonely British bachelor trying to find love (or just sex) in a town without pity. This eight-episode HBO series is more of a riff on the kind of awkward hubris and guaranteed humiliation that has become a defining feature of 21st-century situation comedy. Future television and movie historians will know us mainly by our enjoyment of stories about sad sacks who further their own misery by trying to impress those around them.

It’s a threadbare shtick, but Merchant, whose most notable work was done in collaboration with Ricky Gervais, has mastered it. Stuart is too unctuous and aggressive to gain the right sort of viewer empathy, but that burdensome feeling is balanced out a tad by Merchant’s co-stars (Christine Woods as his apartment tenant Jessica; and Nate Torrence as his friend Wade). We wincingly follow along as Stuart tries to get into exclusive clubs and then makes all the wrong moves on cruelly indifferent women. It’s as if “Entourage” had a nightmare. Grade: C

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